Obama on charter schools and vouchers

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I like Barack Obama. I like the rhetoric he uses and the hope he embodies and, unlike some people, I believe rhetoric is as important as policy. More important even, for rhetoric defines the parameters in which policy operates. In a sense, rhetoric sets strategy, whereas policy only defines the tactics to achieve the strategy outlined by rhetoric. To refer to a prior post of mine

a leader must possess clearly stated strategic goals that are based on deeply held principles and from which he or she refuses to waver.

A candidate’s rhetoric helps define the strategic goals he or she seeks to achieve and from which he or she refuses to waver.

That being said, rhetoric without policy is empty. I want a candidate who has some idea how to achieve his or her strategic goals, especially when they are as lofty as Obama’s. To that end, I was more than pleasantly surprised to read the following quote from the Democrats for Education Reform website in Slate Magazine:

At a Manhattan fundraiser I attended last April, a local charter school operator asked Obama why it was so hard to be a charter school person in the Democratic Party. His answer was thoughtful and measured, but he – not the person who asked the question – identified the teachers unions as the obstacle on the political side. He noted that the American public was hungry for change and that the unions’ leadership was going to have to decide whether they want to be in on it, or be completely left behind.

According to Democrats for Education Reform, Mr. Obama went even further:

if studies end up showing that children are benefiting from vouchers, he (Obama) wouldn’t allow his skepticism to stand in the way of doing something to help them.

“You do what works for the kids,” Obama said.

In many ways, Mr. Obama’s run for the presidency is a fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream. His campaign has, as he has so often exhorted audiences on the campaign trail to do, transcended race. It is yet another reminder of the success of the civil rights movement in this country.

Despite that success, however, and despite Mr. Obama’s success so far in the primaries, racial inequality persists in America, and specifically in the area of education, where it is manifest in a racial achievement gap, an achievement gap maintained by the unequal access of poor, minority parents to educational options for their children.

Mr. Obama’s rhetoric sets out a goal of racial transcendence. I applaud. I also applaud the policy tools he appears open to use to achieve it – supporting charter schools and vouchers. It seems that Mr. Obama has identified worthy strategic goals and is unwilling to let special interests deter him from achieving them, exactly, in fact, what a leader should do. Let’s hope that, if elected President, he follows through.